Posted on Fri, Nov. 19, 2004


 

Marine: 'I think I'm truly scared'                   




Star-Telegram Staff Writer

 

Gary Qualls had put the letter from Louis down and tried to busy himself.
It had been hard to read the letter from his son, and he couldn't reply, not right then.
There's a lot going on here, Louis wrote. The next month will be some of the most serious combat the war has yet to see. Well, I'm right in the middle of it. I think I'm truly scared.  Dad, I need your prayers and your advice more than ever.
 
It was Tuesday, and Gary Qualls had returned to his house in Temple after a long weekend of hunting with an old Army friend. The trip had been a temporary distraction from worrying about his 20-year-old son, a Marine lance corporal from a reserve unit in Grand Prairie.
But distractions were always temporary. Reminders of Louis were everywhere - on CNN, on the front porch where his 1979 Harley-Davidson was parked, in the photos of Louis wearing his Temple High football uniform.
 
I know you've always been there for me. I just can't wait to come home. I want you to know that whatever happens in the next weeks, I have always looked up to you and I always will.  I love you and look forward to seeing you soon.
Your son,
Louis.
 
Louis joined the Marines after graduating from Temple High in 2001. It was hardly a surprise. He was all-boy, learning to shoot a rifle at a tender age, competing in martial arts, riding his Harley with his dad.
In high school, he wore the Air Force blue uniform of the Junior ROTC, carried the flag in the JROTC color guard, played linebacker for the Wildcats, ran track and made good grades too.
"He had a good pair of hands and he was quick on his feet," his dad said. "He played defense very well."
He was a squared-away kid in high school, quiet and attentive, according to his JROTC instructor, retired Lt. Col. Sid Thurston.
Mostly, he wanted to be like his dad. Gary had served in the Army and the National Guard for years and raised two sons almost entirely by himself.
"He had the vision that he wanted to serve in the military," Thurston said. "He looked up to his dad as an influence in his life."
In July, Louis got orders to mobilize with 85 Marines from Headquarters Battery, 2nd Battalion, 14th Marines. They said their goodbyes to family and friends on a hot morning outside the reserve center in Grand Prairie, then boarded buses.
 
"As soon as the mission came up, his hand came up," said Lt. Col. Roger Garay, the battalion's inspector. "His heart was in it."
Gary proudly told Louis' commander that day, "Sir, you give that boy half a chance and he'll give you everything he's got."
Those in Louis' unit were sent to Iraq to drive the heavy trucks for the infantry, but they did a lot more. In letters and e-mails, Louis told his father of house-to-house searches and how humbling they were.
"He told me, 'I thought I had a few problems when I left here,' " Gary said. "These people were so poor, they had dirt floors and a sheet hanging in the corner with a can for a toilet.
 
"He realized how lucky he truly was. He gained a lot more respect for life."
With less than three months of a seven-month tour behind him, Louis sent his dad an e-mail recently in which he said, cryptically, that he would be tied up for three or four weeks and wouldn't be in contact for a while.
"I knew where he was," his dad said. "Fallujah."
That was why the letter that came on Tuesday meant so much, a surprise card that Louis had picked up in a store on post, the kind with heartfelt words about sons and fathers.
 
About an hour after Gary read the letter inside the card came a knock on the door. Louis' younger brother, David, answered it. He came into the kitchen, where Gary had the refrigerator open.
"Dad, there's three Marines on our front porch and they want to talk to you," he said.
Gary knew why they were there. Fallujah.
"All I could do was stand at my door and say, 'No, not my baby.' "
There was a long silence as he remembered.
"Then I let them in."
 
Texans in Iraq
Marine Lance Cpl. Louis Qualls, 20, of Temple died Tuesday as a result of enemy action in Fallujah, the Defense Department announced Thursday.
Qualls was assigned to the Marine Corps Reserve's Headquarters Battery, 2nd Battalion, 14th Marines, in Grand Prairie.
Qualls was at least the 110th Texan to die in the war in Iraq.

Report: Temple soldier gave life to save his convoy
Watch Video

January 11, 2005
A new report released this week says a Temple Marine killed in action gave his own life to save his convoy in Iraq. A military report details how Louis Qualls stopped an Iraqi insurgent about to fire on U.S. soldiers.

It's been a tough two months for Gary Qualls.

"I looked through the glass doors at the Marines,” he recalls, “And they were standing there with their hands folded looking at me and I knew he was killed in combat."

Qualls didn't get the details then, but new information released in a military report describes his son as a hero. Lance Corporal Louis Qualls reportedly gave his life to stop an insurgent who was attempting to shoot a rocket propelled grenade at his fellow Marines.

"He did a fine job,” his father says. “I'm real proud of him."

At Temple High School's ROTC Department, pictures and newspaper articles about Louis hang on the wall as a reminder of the price of freedom. The department has set up a Qualls Memorial Award Fund that will be given to a graduating senior that is going into the military.

ROTC instructor Lt. Col. Sid Thurston says, "We don't want Louis' memory to ever fade and this is something that will always be with us."

The award will be given out this April and the ROTC department plans to make it a yearly tradition.

"Louis would have wanted something like this to transpire,” Thurston says, “Because he always wanted to help fill somebody up when they were down."

Gary Hopes others can be inspired through Louis' sacrifice.

Louis' family and the ROTC are also planning to build a memorial at Temple's Municipal Building honoring every solider from Bell County killed in combat since World War I.

STORY BY ANDI BACA